Jardines de la Reina Marine Park is one of the biggest treasures of the Caribbean, in a bigger scale can also be considered as one of the world's best-preserved marine areas. The importance of its protection goes beyond the Cuban waters jurisdiction, as the connectivity between marine ecosystems has international importance. The Cuban Government together with AVALON and AZULMAR (Branch of Marlin Marinas de Cuba) has been working to accomplish the protection tasks of the Park. Government's institutions such as: ONIP, CITMA, CNAP, CNPFF, and the Center for Studies of Coastal Ecosystems of Ciego de Avila all have been key partners and have been directly involved in leading investigations and all the projects and surveys in the area.
Within Jardines de la Reina marine park there are some areas classified as ZUSRUP (Zones Under Special Regime of Use and Protection) this is a management classification of protected areas, with the aim of using them in a sustainable way, in places where tourism and conservation activities can be interacting under special rules and strict regulations and delimitations. The only allowances in the marine park are for Bonito fishing in the south of Jardines (blue water fishing, Open Ocean) and Lobster fishing with artisanal means.
All Caribbean marine regions are interconnected exchanging energy and matter, the migrations of fish, turtles, larvae's, birds, etc. involves many areas from the east coast of the US to the Gulf of Mexico and from Bermuda to Lesser Antilles, the North Coast of Sur America and more, all ecosystems are interdependent, the management success in preserving some areas or the mistakes and lack of protection in others affects the region as a whole, the protection of Jardines Marine park has a global importance and AVALON has been committed to support this protection for almost 23 years of continuous work and efforts.
The "Gardens of the Queen"
The Cuban Archipelago "Gardens of the Queen" comprises a whole set of islands, keys, islets and banks located south the Gulf of Ana Maria at the southeastern section of the Cuban shelf. This system is located between the 21 08.101' N; 079 27.700' W and 20 30.479'N; 078 19.955' W, and has a longitude of 74 nautical miles approximately.
The Gulf of Ana Maria is one of the largest and most habitat-diverse shelf areas of Cuba and the insular Caribbean, covering the waters south from provinces Camaguey, Ciego de Avila and Sancti Spiritus. The Gulf is the deepest in Cuba (20-25m in some areas) surrounded by the main island in the north, and the "Jardines de la Reina" Archipelago in the south (hundreds of mangrove islets and keys) spreading from east to west.
Extensive sea grass beds and muddy areas as well as numerous patch reefs cover the gulf; an array of islands and barrier reefs separates the gulf from the Caribbean Sea. Mangroves fringe the islands and mainland. All these conditions combine to provide abundant populations of seabirds, reptiles and the Caribbean’s richest marine biodiversity and biomass.
Diving in Jardines de la Reina
The "Gardens of the Queen", are a complex network of untouched marine ecosystems that have been regarded by many knowledgeable scientists and organizations as a reference of what is the original status of a coral reef as Christopher Columbus found it in the times of the discovery.
The underwater paradise is all that comes into the mind when you first enter the water, the vertical walls covered with brightly hued sponges, the huge Pilar Corals (Montastraea Annularis), the black corals extending the branches in the contrasting blue water, many species of gorgonians, fragile laminar corals (Agaricia sp.) showing its beautiful shapes through crevices, canyons and caves built along thousands of years of invertebrates work, converting tons of calcium carbonate into architecture masterpieces, all this combined with one of the biggest fish diversity and biomass of the Caribbean makes each dive an unforgettable experience.
The amazingly healthy mangrove system provides nursery area for young fish populations, filtering the water that goes to the reef together with the seagrass beds (Thalassia Testudinum) and in return receiving from the reef protection against the open ocean wave energy, all interconnected in a very fragile network that here keeps its variety, richness and splendor intact.
The biggest populations of adult fish in the Caribbean, Sharks, Snappers and Groupers, Jewfish up to 400 Pounds are an everyday experience. Sharks are one of the main attractions and can be seen everywhere. It is possible to dive with 6 different species: Silkies, Reef, Lemon, Black tip, Great Hammerhead and Nurse sharks. From July to November is easy to swim with Whale Sharks.
Avalon Diving Center is the only operation in the area, and hosts no more than 900 divers per year. Dive sites are well protected from the winds and sea currents. Visibility is more than 40 meters. The dive center is well equipped with new compressors, nitrox blenders and quality equipment for rent.
Avalon diving centers
2 BAUER KAP-15 and a Coltri compressor 32
180 12-liter aluminum INT connection tanks - (DIN with adaptors) + 30 12-liter steel tanks with DIN and INT connections.
20 diving modules – Cressi-Sub to rent
Closest hyperbaric chamber
Hospital Naval (Havana)
Diving spots that have been discovered to date: 80 spots, all well protected from wind and marine currents. We have 14 instructors (CMAS/SSI/PADI) on hand, one of which speaks Russian.
Modern skiffs are used to organize excursions to lagoons and boat rides through mangrove channels around the archipelago.
Some of the most prominent dive sites are detailed hereunder
At the mooring buoy, the reef is 15 meters deep, forming impressive canyons and caves that run perpendicular to the coastline until they reach 24 meters of depth at the edge of the drop-off. At this point, the reef is very colorful and alive, with huge schools of grunts patrolling the border of the abyss; many jacks; silver tarpons in groups of 10-50 coming straight at you and then making a swift turn 5 inches away from your mask, along with turtles, eagle rays flying near the wall and sometimes a lonely three-meter-long great hammerhead coming up from the deep to take a quick look at the divers and then disappearing into the blue. In the meantime, as divers go around the canyons, a group of 10-12 silky sharks keep swimming close to the surface near the boat; then, during the safety stop, they come to get an eyeful of the divers.
This is one of the best dives in Jardines de la Reina. Farallón is a giant coral mountain 17 meters deep at the top and divided into four parts by tunnels that run across and end at a white sandy bottom of 29 meters. These tunnels are about 30 m. long, 3 m. wide and 10 m. high, with an opening at the top that allows the sunlight to pour through, creating a spectacular show of light and shapes, giving the diver the feeling of flying across another world. Same species as in Pipín plus the reef shark (Carcharinus perezi) swimming close to the bottom.
Dive along the drop-off, with coral mountains at the edge descending from 20 m. to 40 m. and then to the abyss (800 m.). Visibility is more than 40 meters. You can find massive black coral colonies in the wall; also, the mysterious and shy great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) sometimes emerges from the blue to show its incredible body shape and elegance.
Black Coral I and II
These two dives are the most exciting! Minimum depth is 24 meters on top of the reef, then a sandy bottom at 30 m. Channels run across the reef perpendicular to the coast, until they reach the drop-off; at this place, there is a resident population of more than 30 reef sharks (Carcharinus perezi) that get very close to the divers (sometimes 10 inches away from the mask). After 15 minutes of breathless watching at these creatures while they swim around, the dive continues close to the coral formations and sandy channels with sleeping stingrays (Dasyatis americana), parrotfish, big black groupers and tons of jacks swimming near divers until the end of the dive.